I know it’s wrong. And I have a legion of mom friends who pat me on the back and tell me it’s OK. Because after a long week and a thousand toddler negotiations, sometimes I just want a slice of pizza, and a little silence.
I’m familiar with the studies and statistics. Too much screen time can lead to poor school performance, physical laziness and ADHD-type behavior issues. Screens at the table can disrupt my child’s relationship with healthy eating practices, and rob us of the opportunity to communicate and connect.
But here’s the thing: I’m human. And until the American Academy of Pediatrics adds a stress caveat to their screen time guidelines, you just might see me, once in a while, ignoring the judgmental stares.
However, I have committed to trying other things. Plenty of parents find good old-fashioned, screen-free activities to occupy their kids while they eat. And according to Dr. Maria Gray, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, forging through the whining will eventually work in my favor.
“If a child knows her bad behavior will result in a tablet, why wouldn’t she act out to get it? It’s a hard habit to break, but once you engage your child in other activities, like fun games or conversations she can contribute to, meals will be less of a screaming match and more of a bonding experience.”
So, here goes. Below are five table activities I’ll be trying this month. If you’re a tablet-at-the-table type parent, try them with me. And if they don’t work, let’s invest in dual headphones, and go grab a slice of pizza.
- Pack a “restaurant kit”
Having a travel kit of contained games and crafts is a good way to keep kids entertained in a pinch. But the trick is making it special. Fill the kit with goodies your kids can’t play with every day — stuff they only see when you’re dining out. This builds intrigue and helps them look forward to their time at the table.
- Reinvent the tablecloth
A paper place mat and a box of crayons can only go so far. Especially because they’re only intended for your child. Instead of putting your child in a creative silo, ask for a stack of paper mats and a few extra crayons and pass them around. Involving everyone at the table helps your child feel like they’re part of something bigger. And, hey, they make adult coloring books for a reason.
- Start scrapping
Your kids are part of the digital photo age. Which means they probably don’t have tangible proof of their existence. Fix that, and add a little fun to your family dinner, by bringing a stack of family photos to the table. Make sure you bring a range of ages. And to up the ante, bring a small scrapbook and a couple of glue sticks to create something they can take home.
- Get wordy
Never underestimate the power of a good word game. They fill the silence and (gasp!) can be educational. Some good ones are: I Spy; Finish This Sentence; Would You Rather; 20 Questions; Two Truths, One Lie; Charades; and I Went to Market. For older kids, break out the Mad Libs and relive the humor that was your youth.
- Do (your) homework
Even the quietest kid has a story to tell — you may just need to ease it out of him. Brainstorm some non-boring conversation points, like cool new rides at Disneyland or potential activities for an upcoming trip. When in doubt, tell an embarrassing story from your childhood. Nothing thrills a child more than a parent’s complete humiliation.